I knew that something had changed since our morning walk, when I stepped over the threshold yesterday evening, even before my other senses kicked in, there was a warmth on my skin that I’d missed for months now. As I descended the half dozen steps from the front door the lack of wind was startling. El Médano is famous for its wind; it’s the wind and kite surfers’ town, for goodness sake. Then I glanced over to where Montaña Roja should have been, and it wasn’t there, or at least not that I could see.
Years ago there was an episode of “The Twilight Zone” in which the folk of a normal, middle-class American suburb wake to a thick fog. The citizens driving off into it on their way to work in the city all return, because the fog is so deep and impenetrable that they are afraid. It turns out that the entire suburb had been whisked off to another planet by aliens, and the fog is to discourage them from venturing outside their zone. That program always, always comes to mind when we have a calima this dense.
Calima is what this is, not fog, nor mist, but dust; so thick in the air that you can taste it. It’s known as polvo en suspensión (suspended dust) here. I should have known when I woke with painful sinuses. They are my personal barometer, but when we walked along the beachfront I didn’t notice it that much. It did cross my mind the day before, when I heard the weather forecast – high winds on the eastern islands, those closest to Africa. Yet all day I was working away indoors and didn’t notice the wind drop, nor the light become translucent.
Winds from Africa bring sand and dust from the Sahara, and when the winds abate it hangs in the air ominously. There is often a mild scattering hanging around, veiling the farther mountains so that their features merge and become indistinct, but it’s a couple of years now since I remember a calima this heavy, and in 25 years I could count on my hands the number I’ve seen. The worst lasted a couple of weeks, but often they disappear miraculously after a few days, sometimes overnight even. They are most common around this time of year.
The horizon was lost in the haze, but this paddle surfer was taking advantage of the unusually calm waters to practice his sport. Doesn’t he look like a phantom emerging from the water!
It’s especially bad news this year because the last thing this parched and arid south east coast landscape needs is dust. The flora everywhere is already skeletal and dirty-looking. It’s been about a year since it rained, and whilst that might sound wonderful to those of you further north, or even here in the holiday resorts, it’s sad to see the hillsides looking so barren and forlorn. Usually at this time of year they are dressed in their springtime best for a while until the sun god takes his toll again. In Gran Canaria reservoirs are said to be 26% down on their normal capacity. Hopefully, our underground reservoirs in Tenerife can take the strain. Even when the sun is bright on the coast, the swirling mountain mists and trickle their water into the porous, volcanic earth which seeps into the caverns below.
Compare the photos below. The first one of each scene was taken yesterday evening, and the following one is a shot taken from a similar position at around the same time on a normal day.
This morning there is breeze in El Médano, and although the sun is ghostly behind the dust, it’s not so dense as it was last evening. The tv is advising those of us with allergies to stay indoors as much as possible over the weekend, so by Monday we should be back to normal.